You're the information technologies communications manager for a process licensing company-responsible for the operation of thousands of workstations in a campus environment. You oversee 300 to 400 moves per month, but your telecommunications infrastructure is dated. What do you do? John Whittington of UOP, Des Plaines, Ill., recently faced this challenging situation.) He engaged specialist Albert Chavoen of Technical Consulting Services Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill., to eliminate the problem by helping push a large telecommunications overhaul project at the 19-building office and research lab campus.

The company used a mishmash of three e-mail systems, each of which were outdated. Because e-mail communication is such an important component of company activity, it was necessary to put the whole company on a single system. To negate any possibility of downtime, the site has redundant Wide Area Networks (WANs) and redundant Local Area Networks (LANs). Optical fiber datacom services from two providers offer another level of redundancy.

Historical conditions. At the Des Plaines campus, thousands of workstations used dated wiring and connecting equipment, making it difficult to apply the newest telecommunication services. UOP management wanted to upgrade the networking media to a high-performance level-putting a PC on everyone's desk. Additionally, newly installed network elements had to support the Windows NT operating system, Microsoft Exchange E-mail, and other features for desktop systems. The firm also wanted to be ready for digital communications and other future technologies.

Planning for the future. Anticipating future growth, Whittington supervised the installation of six-port duct banks and conduits to interconnect buildings on the Des Plaines campus in 1993. These duct banks now hold a system of 24-fiber multimode 62.5/125 micron fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone structure to the LANs and interconnect 19 campus buildings.

He and Chavoen planned all the optical-fiber raceway runs to avoid damaging the cable and thus degrading optical characteristics. For example, they positioned pull boxes to avoid overly long runs and lessen stress as they pull the cable around bends. Offering almost unlimited bandwidth, the fiber-optic cable runs link to workgroup switches and hubs in telecommunications closets.

Total performance needs. They specified all system upgrade components for their performance characteristics, including distribution frames and patch panels; connecting blocks, workstation outlet hardware, Cat 5 unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cabling for data transmission circuits, and Cat 3 UTP cabling for voice circuits. The Cat 5 cable satisfies performance needs for Cat 5 cabling as defined by EIA/TIA 568A, Commercial Building Telecommunications Wiring Standard. But it also offers typical near-end crosstalk values that are better than minimum requirements set in the standards, providing room for growth for future bandwidth-hungry applications.

UOP is also implementing Fast Ethernet protocol to the network as a replacement for its 10-Base-T Ethernet system.

Telecom closet details. Chavoen is an advocate of careful cable design and installation, because the life of the cable far exceeds the life of associated hardware (servers, routers switches, and hubs). Thus, the freestanding floor racks used in the main telecommunications room and elsewhere provide excellent cable management features. These include support for split-equipment shelves and 4.6-inch by 6-inch vertical side rails with relocatable hook-and-loop cable managers.

The cable managers make it easy to separate patch and building cables while providing plenty of space for easy routing of horizontal or backbone cables up to the point of termination. Additionally, the ladder channels on the top of the rack easily position standard 12-inch ladder trays.

Whittington and Chavoen specified another important feature: ac electric power. They installed duplex receptacle outlets, mounted within a vertical aluminum housing, between the patch panel racks, to provide convenient power outlets for energized equipment. They also installed duplex receptacles at convenient locations at the base of the cross-connect.All branch circuit wiring is carried in neatly installed EMT (electrical metallic tubing).

Cross-connect blocks provide the interconnect point between the horizontal distribution of the twisted pair voice/data cables to a workstation and the voice/data backbone (riser) cables. From the cabling/equipment racks, horizontal trays (installed in the plenum space above the access ceiling tiles) carry the cables.

Chavoen notes many organizations are upgrading their data communications networks from 10-Base-T Ethernet (10 Mbps) to 100-Base-T Ethernet (100 Mbps) systems. Installers must often rework cramped wiring closets while trying to meet EIA/TIA standards on proper bend radii, cable stripping, and administration.

"Well-designed patch panels help in making moves, adds, and changes," he says. "They also provide flexibility when cables have to be rearranged." At the workstation. Workstation outlet plate hardware requirements exceed those given in TIA/EIA standards, because a typical workstation needed a surface-mounted information outlet that could expand beyond a standard 4- or 6-port unit. Thus, the company uses a customized, surface-mounted, 12-port housing. It has from two to six Cat 5 jacks for data transmission alone. It reserved the remaining ports for at least three voice telephone lines (Cat 3 cabling) and any anticipated growth.

The firm uses other customized 12-port outlets, with three different six-position jacks (one two-conductor, one four-conductor, and one six-conductor). All of the cabling complies with the TIA/EIA-606 cabling-system administration standard regarding color-coding procedures.

Two Telco contracting firms, Telecomp Technologies, Chicago, Ill., and Current Communications, Hillside, Ill., did the cabling installation. UOP only employs installers who pay close attention to all aspects of safety on the job, such as maintaining proper distance from power lines and electrical equipment, and enforcing the requirements for safety equipment and fall devices.

One of the project's biggest challenges was working around the facility's normal operations. The companies did all of the cable testing with the same brand of instruments, which are familiar to UOP Datacom staff technicians. A Windows-based cable management software (CMS) program maintains the UOP cable plant. UOP conducts a Datacom grounding survey twice a year.

"Just about every fifth time we do this survey, we find that someone has tapped into the system and changed ohmic values," comments Whittington.